They played a wild second half on Sunday. The Saints rolled up 36 points but didn't take control until Brees went in on yet another keeper from two yards out to give New Orleans a 37--34 lead with 8:35 to play, en route to a 46--34 victory. After the go-ahead touchdown, the 6-foot Brees did not spike the ball. Instead he dunked it over the crossbar. "A dunk," said Stinchcomb. "Who knew?"
In those final 30 minutes the Saints unsheathed most of their offensive weapons. Brees threw for nearly 200 yards on just 10 completions. Third-string back Mike Bell rushed for 80 yards on 12 carries. Shockey caught three passes for 96 yards, including a 66-yard catch-and-run that set up Reggie Bush's 10-yard TD on a double reverse in which he covered the final six yards in the air. (Bush, a Heisman winner and second overall pick, has a great knack for making an otherworldly play just when it seems appropriate to question his production in relation to his pedigree.)
It was the Saints' most uneven performance, yet they left South Florida a stronger team than the one that arrived last Saturday, further tested and more fully proven. In a hallway outside their locker room Brees, dressed in a light-gray business suit, arranged a briefcase on top of his rolling suitcase and then fished out his BlackBerry. Ever the professional. "The best thing," he said, "is that guys stuck together today."
The only unbeaten team left in the conference, New Orleans hosts Atlanta on Monday night with a chance to take a three-game lead in the NFC South. The following three opponents—the Panthers at home, followed by the Rams and the Buccaneers on the road—have a combined two wins, which means the Saints have a very real chance to be 10--0 when they host the Patriots on Nov. 30.
On Sunday the message was simpler than that. "Pure attitude," said Stinchcomb. "In past years, a game like this, I don't know if we get there at the end. Our offense wasn't playing well, our defense gave up some big plays. There's no question about it—we'll be better because of this."
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